Hydrocodone Addiction & Treatment
By The Recovery Village
Medical Reviewer Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD | Editor Melissa Carmona
Last Updated: May 16, 2023
Editorial Policy | Research Policy
Hydrocodone is a potent narcotic that can put a person at high risk of abuse, addiction and dependence. Thankfully, treatment for hydrocodone addiction is available.
Hydrocodone is a powerful narcotic that is FDA-approved for people with severe pain. However, the drug is a Schedule II opioid and prone to addiction, abuse and dependence. It is possible to take too much hydrocodone, which can lead to a fatal overdose. Even for people who want to quit taking hydrocodone, the fear of withdrawal symptoms can be a major barrier to stopping the drug. Luckily, treatment options and rehab are available to help you overcome a reliance on hydrocodone.
What is Hydrocodone?
Hydrocodone is an opioid and a Schedule II controlled substance. The drug is FDA-approved on its own in tablet form for severe pain and sold under the brand names Hysingla ER and Zohydro ER. However, hydrocodone is commonly prescribed in combination with other drugs. These combinations include:
- Hydrocodone and acetaminophen: This combination comes as a liquid and tablet and is FDA-approved for severe pain. The tablet form comes in a variety of strengths of both hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Brand names for this combination include Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, Verdrocet, Vicodin and Xodol.
- Hydrocodone and chlorpheniramine: This drug is a liquid and is FDA-approved for cough and respiratory allergy symptoms.
- Hydrocodone and homatropine: This combination comes as a liquid and tablet and is FDA-approved for cough. The drug is sometimes sold under the brand name Hydromet.
- Hydrocodone and ibuprofen: This drug comes as a tablet and is FDA-approved for pain.
Street names for hydrocodone products include Vike, after the brand name Vicodin, and Watson-387, the manufacturing imprint on one drug formulation.
New Jersey Opioid Crisis
New Jersey has been hard-hit by the opioid crisis, with more than 8,700 naloxone administrations and more than 1,800 overdose deaths from January through July 2020. Although hydrocodone prescription rates are dropping, hydrocodone drug busts in New Jersey regularly make the news. In late 2019, a South Jersey doctor was arrested after illegally prescribing more than 1 million doses of opioids, including hydrocodone, over 3 years. Shortly after that, in December 2019, two dozen people were arrested in a $1.5 million drug bust that included hydrocodone products.
Related Topic: How the Opioid Epidemic is Growing in the US (video)
Hydrocodone Side Effects
Hydrocodone side effects are similar to those of other opioids. Some of the most common side effects of hydrocodone include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Abdominal pain
Over the long term, taking opioids like hydrocodone can reduce your levels of hormones called androgens, leading to hormonal complications such as:
- Low sex drive
- Impotence or erectile dysfunction
- Menstrual problems
- Fertility problems
Because hydrocodone is often combined with other medications, side effects from a hydrocodone-containing product may not be due to hydrocodone itself. For example, ibuprofen, which is available in a combination tablet with hydrocodone, can cause ulcers and bleeding, side effects that are not commonly linked to hydrocodone.
Signs of Hydrocodone Abuse
Signs of substance abuse generally emerge when someone starts to struggle with a narcotic like hydrocodone. Warning signs can involve physical appearance and behavioral changes, including:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Changes in pupil size
- Changes in eating habits
- Abnormal sleep patterns
- Runny nose
- Relationship problems
- Not being able to meet responsibilities
- Financial strain
- Legal troubles
- Sudden changes in friends and hobbies
- Personality and mood changes
Signs of Hydrocodone Overdose
Unfortunately, opioid overdose is common. In New Jersey, in the year 2019 alone, the opioid reversal agent naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, was used more than 14,000 times. Hydrocodone overdose symptoms are similar to those of other opioids, including:
- Slowed breathing
- Flaccid muscles
- Cold and clammy skin
- Small pupils
A hydrocodone overdose is a medical emergency because it can be deadly. If naloxone is available, you should give it right away and then follow up with emergency medical attention. Even if the person who has overdosed appears to get better, it is important to seek medical help since naloxone can wear off in as little as 30 minutes, putting the person at risk of slipping back into an overdose.
Some combination products that contain hydrocodone have other ingredients that can be toxic on their own. For example, hydrocodone products with acetaminophen can cause acetaminophen overdose if too much is taken. Acetaminophen overdose is a medical emergency and can cause permanent liver damage. Naloxone will not reverse an acetaminophen overdose.
If you regularly take hydrocodone, you should not stop the drug cold turkey because of the high risk of withdrawal symptoms. If you take short-acting hydrocodone, withdrawal symptoms may start anywhere from 8 to 24 hours after your last dose and may last up to 10 days. If you take long-acting hydrocodone, your withdrawal symptoms may not begin until 12 to 48 hours have passed since your last dose and may last up to 20 days. Symptoms can include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Hot or cold flashes
- Muscle cramps
- Runny eyes or nose
Hydrocodone is a strong and highly addictive opioid. Withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable and difficult to accomplish without medical help. Your doctor may help you slowly taper off hydrocodone, but may also recommend that you turn to medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, with methadone or buprenorphine. Either of these strategies can help you stop hydrocodone while lessening your chances of painful withdrawal symptoms.
A drug detox program can wean you off hydrocodone while you are under round-the-clock medical supervision. This allows you to stop hydrocodone in the most comfortable way. A drug detox program is especially valuable if you struggle with hydrocodone and other substances like benzodiazepines, as dependence on multiple drugs can complicate withdrawal.
Hydrocodone Treatment Options
Depending on the severity of your struggle with hydrocodone, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper has different options to assist you on your road to a hydrocodone-free life. These include:
Our inpatient detox medical team specializes in hydrocodone and can help to comfortably wean you off the drug.
Because hydrocodone is a strong opioid, medically assisted treatment, or MAT, with methadone or buprenorphine may be an option to help you overcome a reliance on hydrocodone.
After detox, when your body is free of hydrocodone, intensive therapy can begin. Our inpatient therapy program helps you learn the coping skills to live life without hydrocodone.
Outpatient rehab often follows inpatient rehab and includes therapy to coach you on your life in recovery. Teletherapy may also be available.
After rehab is complete, it is time for the lifelong process of aftercare. Aftercare offers support groups and relapse prevention training to help you stay hydrocodone-free.
Underlying mental health issues are common in those who struggle with opioids like hydrocodone. Our therapists are experts in addressing these struggles so you can overcome both hydrocodone addiction and any underlying mental health problems.
Some common questions about hydrocodone include:
Is hydrocodone an opioid?
Yes, hydrocodone is an opioid narcotic.
Is hydrocodone addictive?
Hydrocodone, as a Schedule II controlled substance, carries a high risk of addiction.
How does hydrocodone work?
Doctors are not sure exactly how hydrocodone relieves pain. However, they know the drug binds to receptors in the central nervous system called mu-opioid receptors, which may play a role in how the drug acts as a painkiller.
How long does hydrocodone stay in your system?
The amount of time hydrocodone can be detected in your body depends on what is being tested. After your last hydrocodone dose, the drug can show up in urine for up to 3 days and in saliva for up to 2 days. Further, a 1.5-inch section of hair can show if hydrocodone was taken in the past 90 days.
How long does it take to get addicted to hydrocodone?
A person can become physically dependent on hydrocodone in as little as a few days or weeks. When you are physically dependent on a drug, your body expects its presence and you can go into withdrawal without the drug.
How long does hydrocodone withdrawal last?
The duration of hydrocodone withdrawal is partially dependent on if you typically take a short- or long-acting form of the drug. If you are taking a short-acting form of hydrocodone, withdrawal symptoms can last up to 10 days. If you are taking a long-acting form of the drug, symptoms may last up to 20 days.
Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.
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